The Chief

On the Cutting Room Floor


After attempting to find the ruins of Ascog Castle near Loch Ascog on the Isle of Bute on a recent trip to Scotland, I purchased a new research book (Castles of the Clans, by Martin Coventry) and discovered that I’d made a mistake. Ascog Castle was not actually located on the Isle of Bute but across the Kyle on Cowal near Asgog Loch. My confusion stemmed partly from the alternative spellings of “Ascog” and “Asgog” for the castle—both are used. Very little information is available about the castle and I (wrongly) made the same assumption that others had made that the Ascog Lamonts’ castle was near Loch Ascog on Bute, rather than near Asgog Loch in Cowal. Had I bought an Ordinance Survey map for the area beforehand I might have been able to catch my mistake. Lesson learned: spend the $20.

Extended Author’s Note:

:: Although archery competitions were not uncommon in the period, they are not typically mentioned as part of the Highland games (i.e. caber tossing, stone throw, swimming and dancing). My guess is that a contest probably wouldn't have been as formal as I've presented it (i.e. with set targets at certain paces), but more a test of everyday skills such as shooting hanging targets from trees. To this day in Scotland there is an annual papingo shoot held by the Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers (which claims to date back to 1483) where a wooden bird is hung from the clock tower and archers try to shoot it down.

:: Here's the link to a letter mentioned in the Author's Note from Sir Alexander Colquhoun of Luss to the king in London complaining of lack of progress with the MacGregors (page 132).

:: In Highland Warrior I alluded to the difficult early years of Argyll. Archibald Campbell the 7th Earl of Argyll was born in 1576 and died in 1638. He became earl in 1584 and was "protected" by six guardians named in his father's will—all cadet members of the family. In 1592 a plot was hatched against the teenage Argyll, his brother, the "bonnie" Earl of Moray, and Campbell of Calder (one of his guardians) by Chancellor Maitland, the Earl of Huntly, Campbell of Ardkinglass, Lord Maxwell, and Campbell of Lochnell—one of Argyll's guardians and, not surprisingly, the next in line as chief of the family. The bonnie Earl and Calder were both killed, but Argyll was saved when one of the conspirators (Ardkinglass) reportedly confessed. Also implicated in the plot was "Black" Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, another reviled Campbell who plays a part in Highland Outlaw. Black Duncan was famous not only for his ruthlessness, but also as the builder of castles—another one of his epithets was "Duncan of the Seven Castles." Like Argyll, Glenorchy also added to his lands at the expense of the MacGregors by helping to "root out" the outlawed clan.[1] Glenorchy lived to the ripe old age of 81, leaving legitimate issue of eighteen and two known illegitimate children.[2]

:: The persecution of the MacGregors was one of the uglier periods of Highland history. King James gives Argyll instructions to "lay mercy aside, and by justice and the sword to root out and extirpate all of that race [MacGregor]."[3] One of the more grisly examples of this policy was the bounty given for MacGregor heads. Usually a head entitled you to the dead man's possessions, but the MacGregors were also encouraged to turn on themselves when the King offered to pardon them for bringing in the head of a kinsman of equal rank (or more for one of lesser rank). Not surprisingly, this resulted in some well-known criminals being pardoned.[4] The MacGregors did not take it lying down. Another infamous incident occurred when Alasdair MacGregor and some of his men came upon one of the bounty hunters with three MacGregor heads in his bag; Alasdair promptly tied him up on a tree and hanged him.[5]

:: Argyll and the MacGregors: As I mentioned in the Author's Notes for Highland Warrior and Highland Outlaw, it is clear that history has painted Gillesbuig Grumach, Archibald the Grim, with a black brush, holding him responsible for the persecution and eventual doom of Clan Gregor. "The Children of the Mist," in contrast, are painted with a much rosier brush: as good-hearted outlaws and "Robin Hood" type of characters (i.e. the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor who would be born over sixty years later). I suspect whether you reviled Argyll probably had something to do with whether your name was Campbell. In Highland Warrior I tried to look at the era from Clan Campbell's perspective. As Jamie tells Caitrina, the MacGregors were a scurvy lot, a band of outlaws who roamed the countryside reiving and pillaging—clearly the Campbells were victims of this. The "Highland Problem" was not going away and it was also clear that someone had to step in—if it hadn't been Argyll it would have been someone else. As I mentioned in the author's note, atrocities were committed on both sides: At the Battle of Glenfruin (or "Field of Lennox" as it was called) the MacGregors allegedly slaughtered sixty scholars from the Collegiate College at Dumbarton who'd come out to watch the battle and been ensured safety by Alasdair himself[6]. Does Argyll deserve his condemnation? Certainly he was motivated by aggrandizement of land for his very large clan. Whether something more personal behind his campaign was at works was purely my speculation. The truth is probably someplace in between. Not convinced? You can see things from the MacGregor perspective in Highland Outlaw.


1. Thomson, Oliver, The Great Feud: The Campbells and The MacDonalds, Sutton Publishing, 2000, pg. 60-61.
2. Id.
3. Roberts, John, Feuds, Forays and Rebellions: History of the Highland Clans 1475-1625, Edinburgh University Press, 1999, pg. 182.
4. Id. pg. 183.
5. Williams, Ronald, Sons of the Wolf, House of Lochar, 1998, pg. 70.
6. McHardy, Stuart, The Well of Heads And Other Tales of the Scottish Clans, Birlinn Limited, 2005, pg. 159.

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